Jennings observes, as many have, that the New Testament says a great deal about God overcoming our enmity to Him (Transforming Atonement, 127). He overstates his case, because the Bible, including the New Testament, also has much to say about the wrath of God. But his point stands, and that raises the questions: How did humans become estranged from God? Why would we have a “beef” with God? and, How does the cross reconcile us?

Jennings’ answers stand out for their psychological realism. He cites Andrew Sung Park’s use of the notion of han, the sense of bitterness and helplessness experienced by victims: “Han can be defined as the critical wound of the heart generated by unjust psychosomatic repression as well as by the social, political, economic, and cultural oppression. It is entrenched in the hearts of the victims of sin and violence. And is expressed through such diverse reactions as sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, resentment, hatred and the will to revenge” (quoted from Park, The Wounded Heart of God, 10). 

Victims, Jennings argues, often project this anger and resentment onto God, assuming that they are victims of divine abuse. And then comes the message of the cross, that God Himself became a victim, that God responded with forgiveness and love toward His persecutors, addresses the alienation of the victim.

Similarly, dominating powers often invoke God in support of their injustice; systems of exclusion invoke God as the underwriter of privilege; systems of accusation claim to speak in the name of God. And then comes the message of the cross, which announces that God is not like that: He confronts injustice and dominating, breaks down barriers of exclusion, silences the accuser. And thus the gospel overcomes human estrangement. Thus is the gospel a word of reconciliation, the announcement that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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